“A lot of people come out of it with bitterness,” Gary says. “For me, I don’t want to stay bitter. I want to do something better.”
Gary is the founder of the Gary Tinker Federation for the Disabled, an organization that provides advocacy, education and training for residents of northern Saskatchewan. Gary, who has cerebral palsy, knows how scarce the disability supports can be in northern communities. He was born in Pinehouse, Sask., a predominantly Métis village about 480 kilometres north of Saskatoon. Gary was raised in Saskatoon, where he lived with foster families.
He attended a school in Saskatoon specifically for children with physical disabilities. He had multiple surgeries as a child and received therapies that helped him walk. He returned to Pinehouse when he was 15, but he left a few years later.
“There was no hope in the North,” Gary remembers. “I wanted a future.”
In 1989, when he was 22, he spent 79 days walking with crutches La Ronge to Regina to raise awareness about the need for disability supports in the North.
That 650-kilometre journey in 1989 was the beginning of an advocacy journey that has taken him to the House of Commons several times. Gary has been to the Special Olympics and met with Queen Elizabeth II and every Prime Minister from Jean Chrétien to Justin Trudeau. He’s passionate about Indigenous people having proper disability supports. Gary, who speaks Cree, was vice-president of the Pinehouse Lake Métis local for ten years. He’s also represented people with disabilities in national Métis organizations. Right now, he’s working to open a group home in Pinehouse to support people with mental illnesses. He’s also writing a memoir.
Gary and his wife of 20 years live in Pinehouse, where the couple has been foster parents for nearly a decade. When not working, Gary enjoys spending time fishing.